People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.”
~ Leo J. Burke
Let’s take a look at sleep deprivation. The above quote could’ve been spoken by any new parent, and I’m guessing we have all at least thought it. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is not just common, it can be devastating to our relationships, parenting skills and those optimistic hopes we had pre-baby. And sadly, there is a bigger price to pay than just feeling tired. Here are a few highlights of what can happen when you encounter chronic exhaustion:
- Poor reflexes and reaction times.
- Memory and that brain stuff gets affected.
- Relationships suffer.
- Emotional Roller Coaster!
- General disdain and lack of pleasure in life.
- Poor work performance.
- You’re going to drive?!
One of the most common new parent complaints is sleep deprivation. I often refer to my life and thought processes as pre-baby and post-baby (BZ and AZ). They are worlds apart from each other and it’s the best way I know to differentiate my existence on this earth.
Pre-baby. I truly believed that I would start sleep training at 4 months, I believed I would absolutely sleep when he slept, and I knew in my heart that all these exhausted parents were doing something different than I would. I was convinced I would have no problem with this. Sleep was WAY too important to ME. I got this. Ok, hold that thought.
Post-baby. We had an amazing little boy who loved to sleep. He was magical. The only thing I needed to get used to was the schedule, it was all broken up. I could ultimately get enough sleep if I let the dishes and laundry go, but I was doing it! Ha! I was blessed with this baby and I knew I could handle it! Flash forward a few weeks, holy shit. Excuse me, but really.
First of all, I don’t want a messy house. But even letting that go, it doesn’t matter. I could go on (and on) about the cycles and sleep challenges I’ve met, but I will summarize, and give examples in other articles. Now would be a good time to remember what I wrote regarding my ‘pre-baby’ experience. So here’s the reality: I DID start encouraging a day/night routine at 5 weeks, I am choosing not to sleep train, at least not in the cry it out method, and he sleeps with me every night and every nap. I also now have SO much compassion for other sleep deprived, exhausted parents. I have seen myself and a few women that just can’t hide our memory lapses and misfiring neurons. It’s not easy, even when I think it is, it could change at any time.
No matter how many parents tell you during pregnancy ‘Sleep while you can!’ …there is just no way to know until baby arrives. When we were getting the hospital tour at Cedars-Sinai, who is a huge advocate of skin to skin and keeping mama and baby together, the guide showed us their nursery and said that it’s rarely used because of rooming in with baby. Usually it’s moms who are having their 2nd or 3rd or more child who KNOW! At the time I remember thinking, I don’t care how many kids I have, I don’t think I could ever understand not wanting to keep my baby with me. Ahhhh.. how naive I was. Not that I will, but I understand now. I understand.
Speaking of understanding…
Understanding the sleep patterns of babies or knowing that it’s just part of the territory does not make it any easier. And unlike pre-baby when we could stay up for days to study, party, work, or travel – we knew at the end of that run we could ‘make up for it’ by sleeping a LOT if we wanted to. Or we had that option in the back of our minds so it may have caught up to us at times but it didn’t seem as intense as it gets with the new baby. We start to understand after a while, there is no catching up. There is NO CATCHING UP.
Oh wait, what was it I wanted to say. Hmm. Yeah. There is no catching up.
Here’s 6 tips to HELP, not cure, while you’re going through this phase. Yes, thankfully it’s just a phase:
- Stay connected. Build relationships with as many mom friends online and in your community as you can. Feeling the support of other women who know what you are going through is huge.
- Lay down. Even if you don’t sleep when baby sleeps, lay down and rest. Just do it.
- Avoid caffeine. It might make you feel more awake after drinking it but overall, it’s not helping. It affects your hormones, sleep patterns, everything. If it’s mandatory, try just having one cup a day. A real cup, not a commercial size cup.
- Honor day and night. Try to take baby out in the sun and fresh air by mid-afternoon. And on the flip side, encourage sleep by doing a massage, bath, dimming lights, and calming down when you want baby to go to sleep for the night.
- Let people help you. If you’re like me and this is hard for you, look at it as a challenge, and then take it a step further: ASK people to help you.
- Let it out. Are you tapped out, exhausted, at the end of your rope? Do you feel like you just need a good scream?! Do it! Grab a pillow, go into the closet or the bathroom, a place where you won’t feel inhibited and your children won’t hear you, and just let it out. Physically and mentally it’s a great release. It allows pent up frustration to escape and brings fresh energy to your mind and body.
If it’s one of the challenges that come with your baby, you are not alone. Try to remember, for the sake of everyone, you are sleep deprived. Give yourself a break, and step back when you think you MAY not be thinking rationally. This will be a distant memory soon enough, hang in there.